Calathea orbifolia: care & propagation

Katja
Katja
Katja
Katja

I study landscape ecology and through my studies have discovered a love for plants. Plants are not only beautiful, but also have countless fascinating survival strategies. To bring a bit of nature into my home as well, I nurture my houseplants and herbs on every possible windowsill.

Favourite fruit: rhubarb and all kinds of berries
Favourite vegetables: onions and garlic

Calathea orbifolia is a popular houseplant with large, striped foliage. Whilst beautiful, this plant has some specific care requirements and so is best suited to slightly more experienced houseplant owners.

Calathea orbifolia in pot
Calathea orbifola has large, round, ornamental leaves [Photo: Rasmus Kopperud Riis/ Shutterstock.com]

High humidity, consistently moist soil, even heat, and regular fertilising are just a few of the basic care requirements for a healthy Calathea orbifolia. As long as you can meet these requirements and find it an ideal location, this remarkable tropical plant will make an excellent addition to your houseplant collection.

Calathea orbifolia: origin and characteristics

Native to the tropical rainforests of South America, Calathea orbifolia, is one of many species in the Calathea genus, known as prayer plants. This herbaceous perennial belongs to the Marantaceae family and can grow up to 80 cm tall. It is not winter hardy and does not tolerate temperatures below 5 °C.

Calathea orbifolia with its lush green foliage, is one of the many types of Calathea that make beautiful statement houseplants. The leaves of Calathea orbifolia are light green with silvery-green stripes and can grow up to 40 cm long. These round leaves with slightly wavy edges give the plant its botanical name – ‘orbifolia’, which is a conjunction of the Latin words orbis, meaning round, and folia meaning leaf. The leaves of this Calathea move throughout the day and curl up at night, as is typical for many prayer plants. Calathea orbifolia’s flowers are white and star-shaped, but it rarely blooms as a houseplant.

Calathea orbifolia on table outdoors
With its pale silvery-green stripes, Calathea orbifolia is a unique member of the prayer plant family [Photo: Chatchai Somwat/ Shutterstock.com]

Location, temperature, and soil

Calathea orbifolia grows in the undergrowth of forests in nature, sothrives in bright shady areas that mimic these conditions. While this plant requires a lot of indirect light, it does not tolerate direct sunlight. It also needs high humidity in order to thrive, so it is a good idea to place your Calathea in a bathroom, for example, behind a sheer curtain. Alternatively, you can also place the plant’s pot on a saucer filled with expanded clay and water. This is another method of increasing humidity by allowing water to evaporate into the plant’s immediate surroundings. Calathea orbifolia prefers temperatures ranging from 18 °C to 26 °C all year. Do not let the temperatures drop below 15 °C in the winter.

Calathea orbifolia prefers a loose, humus-rich and well-draining soil. Our Plantura Organic All Purpose Compost, for instance, is ideal for these plants. On top of containing organic and sustainably sourced ingredients, our soil is well-structured and has a slightly acidic pH value, making it suitable for tropical houseplants. It is also peat-free and contains all the necessary nutrients the plant needs for the first few months. For even better drainage, mix in 30% expanded clay. To further prevent waterlogging, add a layer of expanded clay to the bottom of the pot to create a drainage layer. As calathea orbifolia requires evenly moist (but not waterlogged) soil, we also recommend adding a layer of mulch to the top of the soil.

Organic All Purpose Compost, 40L
Organic All Purpose Compost, 40L
  • Perfect for all your house, garden & balcony plants
  • For strong & healthy plants as well as an active soil life
  • Peat-free & organic soil: CO2-saving composition

Calathea orbifolia care guide

Calathea orbifolia is not the easiest houseplant to care for. During the summer, you can put yours outside in the shade as long as it gets its minimum light requirement of 750 to 2000 lux. Even when kept outdoors, it is important to regularly mist the leaves to ensure sufficient humidity.

Tip: High humidity levels not only keep the plant healthy, but also deter a variety of pests that tend to prefer dry air.

Watering, pruning, and fertilising

As Calathea orbifolia requires constantly moist soil, it is important to water the plant on a regular basis. Water once the top 2 cm of soil is dry, ideally with water low in lime – rainwater works best. These plants do not like to sit in water, so remove any excess water about 15 minutes after watering. In winter, when it is colder and there is less daylight, water less often, but make sure the root ball never dries out completely.

Close-up of furled calathea orbifolia leaf
Like most types of prayer plants, Calathea orbifolia requires high humidity to stay happy and healthy [Photo: zaidiamri/ Shutterstock.com]

Fertilise your Calathea orbifolia during the growing season from spring to autumn. Once every four weeks, apply a half-dose of liquid fertiliser, such as our Plantura Liquid Houseplant Food. Due to its reduced phosphate and sufficient nitrogen content, our fertiliser helps keep prayer plants healthy. It also contains good bacteria which helps strengthen plant roots. Calathea orbifolia require an even supply of nutrients, so the fact that this fertiliser steadily releases nutrients once it comes into contact with soil also makes it ideal for these plants.

Liquid Houseplant Food, 800ml
Liquid Houseplant Food, 800ml
  • Perfect for a wide variety of houseplants & foliage plants
  • Liquid fertiliser for robust plants & healthy growth
  • Quick & easy application - child & pet friendly

It is not necessary to prune Calathea orbifolia, neither for the winter nor to encourage growth, but you can remove any yellow or dry leaves.

Repotting can be unnecessarily stressful for your plants, so only repot your Calathea once the roots begin to grow out of the pot. Other than that, simply replace the top layer of substrate once a year. If you are planning to repot your plant, it is best to do so in the spring when the growing period begins. When repotting Calathea orbifolia, treat the roots with care and cut off any dead and rotten ones. Remove the old soil completely before transplanting it into a slightly larger pot. You can propagate this plant by division when repotting. We will go over how to do this further down.

Large calathea orbifolia with drooping leaves
If well cared for, this prayer plant’s leaves can grow very large [Photo: Jus_Ol/ Shutterstock.com]

Common Calathea orbifolia problems

  • Calathea orbifolia gets brown edges: Brown edges or spots on your Calathea leaves are usually a sign that either the soil’s pH level is too low or that there is an excess of nutrients. If this happens, it is best to repot the plant in a fresh, suitable substrate.
  • Calathea orbifolia has drooping leaves: As Calathea leaves move throughout the day, drooping leaves are not necessarily a bad sign. However, if the leaves also become discoloured, drooping leaves can be a sign that the substrate is either too dry or wet. If this happens, check the soil and replace the top layer of substrate. Older soil tends to sink and eventually becomes incapable of absorbing and storing water well. Unhealthy roots, a lack of light, insufficient humidity or draughts can also lead to drooping leaves.
  • Calathea orbifolia develops yellow leaves: If your Calathea’s leaves wilt and turn yellow, the plant is most likely suffering from root rot caused by waterlogging. If this occurs, repot your Calathea into fresh soil, cutting off any rotten roots in the process. Use expanded clay to create a drainage layer when replanting, and always pour out excess water after watering. Nutrient deficiencies caused by too much light or insufficient fertilising can also cause the leaves to wilt and turn yellow.
Calathea with browning leaves
Yellow, brown or drooping leaves are a sure sign of incorrect care [Photo: mokjc/ Shutterstock.com]

Tip: Calathea orbifolia’s leaves curling up at night is not a sign of improper care. This is the plant’s natural adaptation to its surrounding light conditions.

How to propagate Calathea orbifolia

Propagating Calathea orbifolia plants is not the easiest. While it is possible to propagate the plant by division, you risk damaging the sensitive roots. If you would like to try and propagate your Calathea, ensure the mother plant is healthy and wait until late spring. Ideally, propagate when you are already planning to repot your plant.

  • Remove the Calathea from the pot and remove all soil from its roots.
  • Using a sharp, clean knife, cut off a small piece of the mother plant consisting of at least one leaf and some roots. Calathea cannot repair its roots, so remove any accidentally damaged ones entirely to allow new ones to grow.
  • Plant the daughter plant in its own pot with a well-drained, low-nutrient soil.
  • Here we can recommend our Plantura Organic Herb & Seedling Compost. As it is lower in nutrients, it is ideal for young plants and promotes the formation of strong roots. For additional permeability, mix in 30% crushed expanded clay.
  • Keep the soil moist and place the plant in a shaded spot at a temperature between 24 °C and 30 °C. To up the humidity, cover with a transparent plastic bag, but remember to air out daily.
  • If new leaves start to grow, you know the propagation has been successful. At this point, you can remove the plastic bag for good and proceed by misting daily.
  • During the growing period, fertilise the daughter plant as you would an adult Calathea.
  • In the following spring, you can repot your new Calathea into a more nutrient-rich soil.
Young calathea plant in nursery pot
Young plants separated from the mother plant can relatively quickly be cared for in the same way as mature Calatheas [Photo: Hanna Helin/ Shutterstock.com]

Is Calathea orbifolia toxic?

No. Like most, if not all, Calatheas, Calathea orbifolia is not poisonous. It is therefore safe to keep in homes with pets and children. Nevertheless, we advise against ingesting the plant as it is inedible.

If you enjoy the silvery pattern on the leaves of Calathea orbifolia, you might like Syngonium as well. These similarly decorative climbers look great in any room.

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